Monday, November 30, 2009

Burgeoning commercial space industry

Wayne Hale's Blog / NASA

The Human Spaceflight Plans Committee (aka “Augustine Committee”) has finalized its report and it is no surprise that the proposals and alternatives offered there have been the subject of much review and evaluation by NASA leadership and space policy makers.

Re-reading the report last week I was struck by an early sentence in the executive summary which was repeated in the body of the report:

“. . . there is now a burgeoning commercial space industry.”

OK, I’m an Engineer, not an English major so I had to look it up:

Read the latest post HERE.

SpaceShipTwo rollout

To create SpaceShipTwo, Burt Rutan translated the technical advances of SpaceShipOne into a craft designed for passenger comfort and everyday reliability.

An overview by Carl Hoffman in December's WIRED, ahead of this week's scheduled rollout of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo.

December 2009 Lunar Highlights

Once in a Blue Moon, the second of two Full Moons in any one calendar month, results in a lunar eclipse, however exceptionally partial and all but invisible in the Western Hemisphere.

Charles Taylor
via the Lunar Observing forum

(all times UT)

Tuesday, December 1: Luna 0.03°S of M45 (1400)

Wednesday, December 2: Full Moon (0730)

Thursday, December 3: Luna 0.8°N of M35 (2000)

Friday, December 4: Perigee [33.0'/363,479 km (1400)
(225,855 miles)

Monday, December 7: Luna 5.0°S of Mars (0300)

Wednesday, December 9: Last Quarter (0013)

Wednesday, December 16: New Moon [lunation 1076] (1202)
-Extreme lunar crescent spotting data for L1076-80:

Friday, December 18: Luna 1.4° N of Mercury (0800)

Sunday, December 20: Apogee [29.4'/405,731 km] (1500)
(252,110 miles)

Monday, December 21: Luna 4.0°N of Jupiter (1500)

Christmas Eve
Thursday, December 24: First Quarter (1736)

Tuesday, December 29: Luna 0.03°N of M45 (0100)

New Years Eve
Thursday, December 31: Luna 0.8°N of M35 (0600)
Full Moon [blue moon] (1913)
Partial Lunar Eclipse [Dec 31/Jan 1]

Briefing on Ares I-X results, Thursday

NASA will host a media teleconference with Bob Ess, Ares I-X mission manager, at 1900 UT (2 p.m. EST), Thursday, December 3. Ess will update reporters on data gathered during the test flight Ares I-X from Kennedy Space Center, October 28.

The test flight lasted approximately six minutes, from launch until splashdown of the booster stage 240 km (150 miles) away.

The Ares I-X was wired with more than 700 sensors gathering data during flight, giving NASA the opportunity to prove hardware, facilities and ground operations of the test vehicle configuration and providing engineers with critical data for the future.

(Reporters who want to participate in the teleconference should contact Lynnette Madison at 281-483-5111 ( by 2230 UT (5:30 p.m. EST), December 2 for dial-in information.

For more information about the Ares I-X rocket, visit:

For more information about the Constellation Program, visit:

Moon water poses research insights

H2O on lunar body a 'big surprise to most astronomers,'
A&M lecturer says

Melissa Appel
The Battalion Online

Forty years after space exploration first placed a man on the moon, scientists are still uncovering new insights into the lunar body.

A mission by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration fired two spacecraft into the surface of the moon on Nov. 13 and discovered a substantial amount of water in a polar crater.

These results followed an experiment in September when three spacecraft used light spectrum to show evidence of water on the moon surface. The equipment worked by picking up the wavelengths of light reflected by the molecules and matching it to a known water molecule fingerprint of spectrum. This experiment was a joint effort featuring NASA's

Cassini spacecraft and Deep Impact probe alongside India's Chandrayaan-1 satellite.

This information shows possibility and intrigue for scientists in the field.

"We used to think that the moon couldn't possibly have any water, so this finding is a big surprise to most astronomers, including me," said Texas A&M Department of Physics and Astronomy lecturer Kevin Krisciunas.

The data from the two expeditions showed water was in the polar craters, where some scientists had previously mused it could be, and along the entire surface of the moon. Evidence of water molecules and hydroxyl molecules - a water molecule missing one hydrogen atom - was picked up by the spectrometers used in the September experiment across the lunar surface.

By crashing into the polar crater, the spacecraft caused a reflux of more than 25 gallons of water. The water was found in the forms of both vapor and ice.

With such a surprising announcement, many were questioning what this means for the possibility of life on the moon and other planets.

"The finding of water to me simply means that some comets have collided with the Moon's south pole region," Krisciunas said. "Since a comet nucleus is a bunch of rocks and dust held together by ices, a certain fraction of the ices might be [water]. A certain fraction of the Earth's water came from such collisions. It stands to reason that the moon was hit by similar projectiles. Water is good for life, but you also need the right kind of atmosphere and the right temperature for life to originate."

Read the story HERE.

NZ rocket launches into space

Peter Beck (left) and Mark Rocket [Doug Sherring / NZH]

New Zealand's first space rocket has launched this afternoon.

The Atea-1 took off from its launch site at Great Mercury Island just before 3pm, after technical problems delayed this morning's planned launch.

The launch company, Rocket Lab Ltd, started up three years ago with the aim to develop a series of Atea rockets that would make space more accessible, company director Mark Rocket said last week.

"This is the first step in a long journey," he said.

The 6-metre-long craft should reach speeds of up to Mach 5, flying 120km into the air, before splashing down in the sea, where it will be picked up.

It is the first time in the southern hemisphere a privately owned company has launched a rocket to space.

Read the story HERE.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Western Australia physicist's Moon dust tapes may hold keys to future lunar landings

The Dynamic Lunar Exosphere in a schematic that should be attributed to Jasper Halekas. Since its true dynamism was first hinted at, in the televised nightside "horizon glow" images returned by Surveyor VII, through the Apollo landings at its first direct detection, through a renewed interest in the lunar exosphere as a driving force (with its own hydrology) the Moon's atmosphere has been demonstrated to be an exceptionally dusty phenomena. Mitigation of its effects on personnel and equipment is a top priority before extended human activity on the Moon can begin.

A set of original NASA data tapes from moon landings in the 1960's now held in Western Australia may hold the keys to overcoming problems associated with the effects of lunar dust on future moon missions.

They are also set to help kickstart the Australian Government’s recently launched space research program.

The 177 original (or primary) data tapes – most likely the only tapes of their kind in the world – contain the results of experiments using dust detectors on the surface of the moon by Apollo 11, 12 and 14 astronauts. They have been recently supplemented by secondary data from Apollo 12, 14 and 15 missions.

The experiments involving the Apollo landings were conceived and designed by Australian space scientist and physicist, Professor Brian O'Brien. He says the data on tapes were never fully analysed and are the only such dust measurements during the six Apollo missions.

“This is extremely important information for engineers and scientists planning future lunar missions,” says Professor O’Brien. “For instance, I’m sure we can read the Apollo 11 tapes now much better than we could in 1969.”

Professor O'Brien, 75, was Professor of Space Science at Rice University in the US in the 1960s. He now lives in Perth and is an Adjunct Professor in The University of Western Australia's School of Physics.

Professor O’Brien’s unique lunar dust data and the data tapes he has been instrumental in preserving are the subjects of two proposals for funding.

The University of Western Australia and the Perth-based company SpectrumData are applying for an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Grant, to develop world-class tape readers that will optimise further reading of the tapes, particularly of the very noisy yet most historic Apollo 11 tapes.

As well as this, Professor O’Brien and The University of Western Australia are applying for Round 1 funding under the recently announced Australia Space Research Program.

Professor O’Brien believes analysing the dust data tapes will help give Australia unique global expertise and provide “early runs on the board” in its space research efforts.

He says the tapes are of international significance, especially since the US, Russia, China, Japan, India and the European Union are all undertaking lunar projects. He says it is likely to be a decade or more before such countries could carry out experiments involving the effects of lunar dust on human and robotic activities on the troublesome dust-covered lunar surface.

Professor O’Brien says lunar dust is considered the number one environmental problem on the moon and can cause unexpected difficulties and hazards for both robots and humans operating on the dust-covered lunar surface.

The measurements by Prof O’Brien’s invention are the first comprehensive research analyses of the only quantitative, direct and active lunar-surface measurements of this problem.

Professor O’Brien’s tapes were stored in Perth for many years until he retrieved them after NASA confirmed three years ago that it had misplaced its copies. Until recently, Professor O’Brien believed there were no other copies of the dust data.

However, after a chance meeting in July 2009 with a retired engineer in the United States, he learned that there was another copy of the dust experiment data embedded in tapes of Apollo seismic data read and archived by Professor Yosio Nakamura. Professor Nakamura is a 75-year-old seismologist working with the University of Texas, and was a team member on the Passive Seismometer Experiments on Apollo missions.

Professor O’Brien has since obtained a copy of Professor Nakamura’s readings of the tapes, and will use them to complement his own data.

He says Apollo astronauts faced major difficulties with clinging lunar dust during their early morning moon walks, and believes his tapes contain much valuable data which needs to be analysed using modern technology.

Matchbox size

Lunar dust is very fine – almost like talcum powder – with particles as small as 20 microns, far less than a human hair width. It is also very ‘sticky’, depending on the time of the day.

The Apollo dust detectors invented by Professor O’Brien weighed only 270 grams, and were about the size of a matchbox. A minimalist design, they contained three small solar cells, which gave differing voltage readings according to how much dust was present, thus affecting the amount of sunlight falling on the cells.

The dust detectors were attached to equipment on the lunar surface outside the Apollo craft, and are especially important because they provide the only direct measurements of spacecraft lift-off conditions and dust clouds caused by rocket exhausts. This can be crucial in determining how close astronauts can leave scientific equipment on the moon without it being adversely affected by dust when spacecraft depart.

“You need to know the physics of what’s happening to the dust, and why it sticks to everything and how its stickiness varies during the lunar day to be able to start to manage it,” Professor O’Brien says.

“Nobody’s ever raised that issue in 40 years despite all the theories about lunar dust, and many, many theoretical studies. Nobody’s even raised the elementary issue of ‘how does it behave during the course of a lunar day?’.

“As a leading NASA administrator said to me in Washington in July, most of your discoveries have raised unexpected questions.”

There are also other concerns, such as unexpected hazards posed as the fine dust clogging up instruments or possible problems if it comes off astronauts’ space suits in their space capsule.

“Then there’s the astronauts’ health,” says Professor O’Brien. “How do you stop the astronauts carrying the dust in when they go into the cabin?”

“The problem is once you leave lunar gravity and enter zero gravity of a capsule, this dust floats everywhere, so inhalation issues can be very important.

“Clearly you want to be able to manage the dust so that you leave it outside and don’t take it in with you.”

He says because of the moon’s unique surface conditions, the findings from his experiments in the 1960s cannot be simulated.

“You cannot simulate in a laboratory all the environmental conditions on the moon: the fierce sunlight, the vacuum, the solar wind, and the electrons and protons from the magnetosphere and the whole plasma (partially ionised gas) environment,” he says.

New findings

At his own expense, Professor O’Brien has been revisiting the findings of his Apollo 11 and 12 experiments. Because his original tapes cannot be properly analysed until new data readers are developed, he’s had to rely on the 100 paper charts he first plotted back in 1969.

Although they only contain a fraction of the information available on the tapes, they are still yielding new findings.

In a paper published in May 2009, he pointed out that the lunar dust behaved differently at different times of the day.

He found that the stickiness of the dust and the way it adhered to objects and spacesuits increased as the sun became stronger throughout the 710-hour lunar day.

This means astronauts working on the moon’s surface in the middle of the day are likely to be covered with much more dust than those working in the morning, which is when Apollo astronauts ventured outside.

As a result, he suggests future lunar landings should provide an awning or shed to shield astronauts from the sun and so protect them from dust.

The US is considering returning to the moon to establish a human presence. In 2012, it is due to launch its robotic Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE).

“Yet they’ll never get ground truth (baseline data to validate other findings) in time for LADEE, that’s one example,” says Professor O’Brien.

In the past month, Professor O’Brien has also made the first analyses of effects of the ascent of Apollo 14 and 15 Lunar Modules – using Professor Nakamura’s data – to contrast with his earlier discoveries from Apollo 11 and 12. His paper is nearing completion.

The work is timely. Professor O’Brien has been invited to report his latest discoveries at a specialist meeting “Lunar Dust, Plasma and Atmosphere” in Boulder, Colorado, in January 2010.

Janine MacDonald (UWA Public Affairs)
(+61 8) 6488 5563 / (+61 4) 3263 7716

NZ's first space rocket a fizzer

Fuel is dumped from the rocket after the first launch attempt from Great Mercury Island was aborted [Peter Drury/Waikato Times].

Tracey Cooper
Waikato Times

A frozen fuel connection delayed New Zealand's first steps into space today, with the launch of Atea-1 put back three hours.

The six-meter rocket was due to lift off from Great Mercury Island at 7.10am but was put back to give scientist Peter Beck and his team from Rocket Lab the chance to fix the aerocoupler, which connects the fuel line to the rocket.

The coupler was meant to disconnect automatically, but Rocket Lab director Mark Rocket said it appeared the connection had frozen.

Mr Rocket said it was disappointing to delay the launch but "that's what happens in this game".

Read the full report HERE.

NASA clamors for safer launches

Todd Halvorson
Florida Today

Congress will hear this week from NASA officials, proponents of commercial crew transportation and independent safety experts. No current NASA astronauts are scheduled to testify Wednesday before the House subcommittee on space and aeronautics.

But documents obtained by FLORIDA TODAY through the Freedom of Information Act show exactly where the actual risk-takers stand.

NASA's Astronaut Office says the next crew launch vehicle should be 10 times safer than the shuttle, which is set for retirement after five more flights.

Read the story HERE.

Wild ride on NASA's massive simulator

NASA Ames' Vertical Motion Simulator, the largest-such simulator in the world, has been used since 1980 to help train pilots to fly helicopters, fighters, and space shuttles. Now, it is being used for training on the next-generation lunar lander.

Daniel Terdiman
geek gestalt - CNET

Mountain View --There I was, staking my claim to a pilot's slot in one of NASA's next-generation lunar landers, and to be perfectly frank, I think I'd better not quit my day job.

"I think we probably walked away from that," said NASA aerospace engineer Eric Mueller, after one rough touchdown. It was an overly charitable assessment of my performance. I'd hate to know what he was really thinking.

Read the story HERE.

Emxys partners with White Lable Space

Noordwijk - White Label Space has announced its newest Partner, Emxys.

Emxys is a Spanish Aerospace company specialized in the design and manufacturing of embedded instrumentation, data acquisition and control embedded electronic systems. Emxys will contribute to White Label Space’s no-name space mission to land on the Moon, which will provide massive media exposure and sponsorship opportunities for the world’s biggest brands.

White Label Space is one of twenty one teams around the world competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a competition for privately-funded teams to send a robotic mission to surface of the Moon and transmit a data package including photos and HD videos back to Earth.

Read the press release HERE.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

More Kaguya Terrain Camera images

Copernican crater Birt (22.4°S, 351.5°E) as deciphered from data collected by the Terrain Camera on-board Japan's lunar orbiter Kaguya (SELENE-1). A 400 pixel-wide reduction from the original still released November 26.

Hat tip once again to Chuck Wood and his diligent work at Lunar Picture of the Day (LPOD), even to the lengths of keeping tabs on the Japanese language-side of the Kaguya Image Gallery (where public releases usually appear weeks prior to their appearance on the English side).

A few weeks ago I made a valiant effort to rip stills from a Kaguya Terrain Camera survey of the same landmark territory near Rupes Recta, the famous "Strait Wall" among the most familiar features of the Moon's Near Side. This was done by downloading the video of that area posted up to JAXA's channel on YouTube, but the result (while interesting) can't hold a candle to the still JAXA posted to its own site earlier this past week.

Chuck linked to the Kaguya Gallery to his discussion of another of these spectacular new releases HERE.

(All of these latest shots have confirmed my long suspicion that at least one of the three more prominent collapsed "ramps" conveniently positioned along the 114 kilometer long fault line might one day serve as a short cut for ground vehicles moving east and west from the area around Birt to the higher elevation eastward beyond the wall.)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fred Haise: Ambassador of Exploration

Apollo 13 lunar module pilot Fred Haise, Jr, 76, was originally slated to become the sixth man to walk on the Moon in April 1970. Instead he considers himself fortunate to have survived that ill-fated mission, earning the distinction of having circled behind the Moon and immediately returned to Earth.

The Associated Press via the Fort Mill Times, reports from his hometown of Biloxi that Haise "will receive NASA's Ambassador of Exploration Award during a ceremony Dec. 2 at the Gorenflo Elementary School."

"Haise will then present the award, consisting of a moon rock encased in Lucite for display, to the elementary school, which he attended."

Aldrin calls Orion a step backwards

Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc

Buzz Aldrin writes that NASA is making a mistake by replacing the winged shuttle with smaller ocean-landing Orion:

"Two Shuttle accidents — each caused by NASA hubris — combined with a tight budget have caused NASA to retire the fleet. Understandable, I think. But in a move that truly makes no sense, they will be replaced by…the space capsules we long ago outgrew. And to save even more money, these cannon-ball-like capsules would land once again in the ocean, not on dry land. To recover Orion will require deployment of ships in several landing zones. How much will that cost? Much of the Orion will be expendable, such as the heat shield. It seems we have decided to throw away our Shuttle experience and go “back to the future”.

Second to final flight for Atlantis

Textbook touchdown: Streams of smoke trail from the main landing gear tires as space shuttle Atlantis touches down on Runway 33 at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida after 11 days in space, completing the 4.5-million-mile STS-129 mission on orbit 171. On STS-129, the crew delivered 14 tons of cargo to the International Space Station, including two ExPRESS Logistics Carriers containing spare parts to sustain station operations after the shuttles are retired next year.

China's next lunar orbiter launch scheduled for October 2010

Xin Dingding
China Daily

China's second lunar probe, Chang'e-2, will be launched in October 2010, a top space scientist said Thursday.

Ye Peijian, chief designer of the nation's first moon probe, told the third International Conference on Space Information Technology in Beijing yesterday that the country's lunar lander and rover, Chang'e-3, is also well on the way toward liftoff -- the project is in the prototype stage and its launch is set for before 2013.

Ye said the second lunar orbiter will carry different payloads and orbit the moon in a different way.

"It will orbit 100 km closer to the moon and be equipped with better facilities. We expect to acquire more scientific data about the moon with increased accuracy," he told China Daily.

Though Chang'e-2 was at one time the backup to Chang'e-1, it has gone through technical upgrades for its new mission. Payloads on board have been improved, and the vehicle now boasts a charge-coupled device (CCD) camera on board, which has a much higher resolution than the camera on China's first lunar probe.

Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist with China's lunar exploration team, said on Wednesday during an interview with that systems on Chang'e-2 are undergoing "match-up and drills" and everything has gone well.

Tests will also be carried out during Chang'e-2's mission to prepare for the lunar lander and rover, Ye said.

Chang'e-3, China's first lunar lander and rover, is scheduled to be launched from a Long March 3B launch vehicle from the Xichang satellite launch center before 2013, he said.

At present, work on Chang'e-3 has gone beyond the planning stage and the machinery is now in the prototype stage.

"Completion of the planning stage means there is no technical barrier for us," he said.

The landing site on the moon for Chang'e-3 has also been chosen. Ye said it will be in the Sinus Iridium (Bay of Rainbows).

The scientific objectives of the project include investigating the lunar landscape and exploring the geological structure of the moon. The mission will also help China study the material composition of the moon and search for usable resources.

Scientists also hope the Chang'e-3 project will let them study the internal structure of the moon and, ultimately, they want to build an observatory on the surface.

Earlier reports by Xinhua News Agency said the lunar rover will leave Chang'e-3 and work on the moon's surface for three months. Scientists have decided to use an isotope technique generator to produce energy for the rover to enable it to cope with the lunar nights, where temperatures can drop to 200 C below zero.

Chang'e-2 and Chang'e-3 are part of the second phase of China's lunar exploration program.

The third phase will see China send a spacecraft to the moon to collect samples and return. That project is slated for before 2017.

China launched its lunar mission in 2007 when it successfully put an unmanned probe, Chang'e-1, into lunar orbit. The spacecraft transmitted pictures of the moon's surface in January 2008.

Chang'e-1 ended its 16-month mission on March 1 when it impacted the moon's surface. The successful conclusion brought the first phase of the nation's three-stage lunar mission to an end.

China became the third nation - after the US and Russia - to put people into space when Yang Liwei went into orbit aboard the spaceship Shenzhou-V on Oct 15, 2003.

Another three astronauts traveled to space in Shenzhou-VII and carried out the country's first space walk in September 2008.

India (ISRO) looks for more indigenous content for Chandrayaan-2

Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc

India is looking to put more domestically produced instruments on its Chandrayaan-II moon mission. The country’s first lunar spacecraft contained 11 instruments, six of which were supplied by foreign organizations.

Mylswamy Annadurai, Project Director of Chandrayan Mission II, ISRO, on Monday said that there would be more indigenous components in country’s second moon mission…"

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dana Mackenzie on the LEAG Annual Meeting

Hat tip to Marc Boucher at NASA Watch for pointing us to a another first person account of the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG).

Mackenzie's two part report Marc calls "worth a read" can be found HERE.

Two Lunar Images

One favorite test of earth-perspective lunar mosaics is the treatment offered of the Descartes Formation, the anomalously bright albedo over the unusual segmented ridges between the landing site of Apollo 16 and Descartes C, north (up) and west of center in the image above.

However you might like to marvel at superior amateur "whole-Moon" mosaics, Xiao Sun has just uploaded two moderately sized examples of work by Mike White at "The Imaging Source," the "Astronomy Cameras Blog" collected early on the morning (UT) of November 7.

The image above is cropped from the 7.5 day-old Moon, showing the rich terrain of the low latitude southern highlands.

Detail from the second of Mark White's outstanding mosaics showing the general location of the Descartes Formation and the magnetic anomaly associated with southern highland regolith of "low optical maturity," or swirl centered near the north rim of the ancient Descartes crater.

Superconductor magnet heat shield concept

Lin Edwards

European space agencies and an aerospace giant are developing a new re-entry heat shield that will use superconductor magnets to generate a magnetic field strong enough to deflect the superhot plasma formed during re-entry of returning spacecraft. They plan to test the new technology by attaching a test module to a missile and using a Russian submarine to fire it into space.

As spacecraft re-enter the Earth's atmosphere at high speeds super-hot temperatures are produced through friction. Traditional heat shields use temperature-resistant ablative coatings that burn off on re-entry, or tough insulating materials, such as the tiles used on the space shuttle. If the new magnetic shielding is successful it could be more reliable and make the craft lighter and easier to re-use, since it would reduce or eliminate the need for other shielding materials.

The project is being run cooperatively by the European Space Agency, EADS Astrium, and the German aerospace center, DLR (Deutschen Zentrums for Luft- und Raumfahrt). The idea is to use a superconducting coil at front of the craft to generate a strong magnetic field projecting beyond the front of the craft.

The scientists are currently assessing the superconducting coil's performance, and have not yet finalized the technical details of exactly how they will fit it into a Russian "Volan" escape capsule for the test. Also uncertain at this stage are the modifications that will be needed to the trajectory to compensate for the deflected air. Telemetry data recovery will also present challenges because the ionized gases that will form around the craft will block radio signals.

The Volan and its magnetic heat shield would be launched into a suborbital trajectory from a Russian submarine at sea. The missile, a modified ballistic missile called Volna, would re-enter the Earth's atmospher at Mach 21 and come back to Earth in the Kamchatka peninsula, a remote region of the Russian Far East.

Detlev Konigorski of EADS Astrim, speaking in Manchester last month at the 2009 European air and space conference, said he expected the test to take place three years after it is approved, and that should be some time in the next decade.

More information:

Thanksgiving on the Moon: A Lunar Feast

Paul D. Spudis
The Once and Future Moon
Smithsonian Air & Space

We often hear the Moon described as a lifeless desert, a barren rock in space where nothing can survive. Although the Moon is certainly different from the Earth, it is hardly barren. From the 1970’s through the 1990’s (largely before we knew about the presence of water and other volatiles in the lunar polar regions) the late, lunar scientist Dr. Larry Haskin set forth some basic facts about the chemical composition of the Moon. Larry was a chemist by training and his view was that the Moon has all that we need – just not in the form in which we need it.

Larry wrote a very interesting paper for the 1988 Second Symposium on Lunar Bases. Over the years, I heard him give several different versions of this talk. Initially, he called it “Wine and Cheese from the Lunar Desert” but after deciding that he didn’t want to drive away or offend any teetotalers in his audience, he changed it, first to “Cola and Cheese” and then “Water and Cheese from the Lunar Desert.” Although the liquid varied, the cheese stayed.

Read the Post HERE.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Game research brings lunar science to life

Keri Brown
West Virginia
Public Broadcasting

The Center for Educational Technologies® at Wheeling Jesuit University is using their research into cyber-based learning to develop computer video games about the moon.

In January, the CET will release its newest version called Selene.

Director of the Center for Educational Technologies® at WheelingJesuitUniversity, Chuck Wood said his team created the videogame Selene to help spark young people’s interest in science.

“We want to give kids a hands on experience using the tools they are familiar with to learn educational material and in particular, information about how something that is in their life every day by looking up in the sky and seeing how it was made and how it evolved over time, so part of our project is to have activities after they play the game that direct them outside to look at the moon with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope,” said Wood.

In 2006, WJU researchers started working on CyGaMEs, which stands for Cyberlearning through Game-based, Metaphor Enhanced Learning Objects.

Read & hear the story, HERE.

2009 Annual Meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group: An Official Report

Clive R. Neal
Notre Dame

The annual meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) was held at the Lunar & Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, over 3.5 days (November 16-19, 2009. The meeting brought together NASA officials, lunar scientists and engineers, and established commercial space companies and lunar entrepreneurial firms. The focus of the meeting was to discuss how to make the next phase of solar system exploration (robotic leading to human) sustainable and, to this end, included the first exciting results from the NASA LCROSS and LRO missions. In the broadest sense, space exploration encompasses:

– Learning to live and work successfully and productively off world.
– Expanding Earth’s economic sphere beyond Earth orbit.
– Strengthening existing and create new global partnerships.
– Engaging, inspiring, and educating the public.
Making it sustainable is one of the three themes in the draft Lunar Exploration Roadmap, developed by LEAG (, for the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory Council, which address why we are returning to the Moon through three themes:

– Pursue scientific activity to address fundamental questions about the solar. system, the universe and our place in them.
– Use the moon to prepare for future missions to Mars and other destinations.
– Extend sustained human presence on the moon to enable eventual settlement.
To be sustainable, lunar activity must consistently return value greater than the investment required to create that value. International and commercial partnerships are vitally important in achieving this result. The following high-level conclusions from the LEAG meeting will be incorporated into the next version of the Lunar Exploration Roadmap:

• A sustainable lunar enterprise requires the use of lunar resources to “live off the land.”
• A sustainable lunar enterprise begins with robotic missions as incremental steps to facilitate more productive human missions.
• A sustainable lunar enterprise provides a basis for long-term human presence on the Moon, enabling exploration of the solar system and a space-based economy.

Impressive results from NASA’s LCROSS-LRO, Japan’s Kaguya, and India’s Chandrayaan-1 indicate the presence of important lunar resources that are vital for sustainable human presence, and which could significantly reduce the cost of human space exploration. Furthermore, the scientific importance of the Moon is now clearer than ever, given strong evidence of its value for studying the solar system volatile flux history.
For more information, please contact the LEAG Chair, Clive R. Neal (

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Memories

If we don’t get it fixed, the crew will have to break out the Apollo bags

Wayne Hale
NASA Blogs

The shuttle is in flight once again this Thanksgiving Day, not the first time a holiday has come during a shuttle flight. My station friends remind me that they fly 24/7/365 and Christmas is really just GMT day 359. But when the shuttle is flying during Thanksgiving, I am always reminded of one significant day:

STS-33 was one of those classified DoD shuttle flights we can’t really talk about. But I don’t think I’ll be in any trouble with security over this mostly true story. I was the Orbit 1 team Flight Director and the shift schedule called for my team to be on console about noon. We had a big family Thanksgiving meal early that year (a real challenge for my wife). Satiated with turkey, all the trimmings, and pie, I arrived at the MCC to start handover from the planning team lead by Rob Kelso. We were expecting a really quiet shift.

Falcon Flight gave me the big news before I even plugged my headset into the console: “Potty is broken!” Sigh. Flight Directors spent hundreds of hours studying the various systems: engines, fuel cells, navigation. Everybody’s least favorite system was not working. “If we don’t get it fixed, the crew will have to break out the Apollo bags” Rob continued. If you don’t know what an Apollo bag is, well . . . let’s just say that you really didn’t really want to know. It’s a big plastic bag with sticky substance on the lip which you apply to your . . . anatomy . . . to take care of your . . . business. Not glamorous.

Fixing the potty is not exactly the kind of problem you want to work on following a big meal.

Read Wayne Hale's latest HERE.

NASA contracts to Astrobiotics-Carnegie Mellon

NASA has selected Astrobotic Technology and Carnegie Mellon University for two contracts to study Moon excavation robots and methods to simulate the one-sixth lunar gravity on Earth.

Lightweight excavation robots are key to recovering the water and hydrocarbon deposits at the Moon's poles, which will enable explorers to "live off the land" rather than hauling all their supplies from Earth at great expense. New results from NASA probes released last week show that the water content in the polar soil is 10 to 30 times richer than previously thought, and in easier-to-access places than the floors of deep craters.

"We intend our robots to be prospectors for water and hydrocarbon resources, and then to demonstrate how they can be turned into rocket propellant and life support supplies," said Dr. William "Red" Whittaker, founder of Astrobotic Technology and a research professor at the university's Robotics Institute. "Creating propellant at the Moon will halve the cost of lunar exploration and advance the date when we can send human expeditions to Mars."

Excavation is expected to be required to remove a top layer of dry soil covering ices deposited by comet and asteroid impacts.

The lunar gravity simulation study will examine the best ways to mimic the effects of the one-sixth lunar gravity via various active and passive gravity-offload mechanisms and ways to make the apparatus scaleable and transportable for field tests in challenging terrain.

NASA selected the excavation robot proposal under its Small Business Innovation Research program and lunar-gravity simulation proposal under its Small Business Technology Transfer program designed to move university research into the commercial sphere. The two Phase I awards total $199,850 and may lead to Phase II awards in six months totaling $1.2 million.

Astrobotic Technology Inc. is a Carnegie Mellon spin-off that will fund a series of robotic Moon missions, first winning the $20 million Google prize and visiting Apollo 11 on the "Tranquility Trek" expedition in late 2011. The Trek robot will be a rolling TV studio and Internet node, sending back high-definition video of its adventures. Later missions will prospect for water ice in deep polar craters and seek out volcanic caves as low-cost shelters for both robots and astronauts.

About Astrobotic Technology:
The company has secured lunar contracts from NASA and two commercial firms. Prototype rovers are now being field-tested at Carnegie Mellon University by Dr. William "Red" Whittaker, the firm's chairman. The company will license lunar data, deliver payloads and perform on-the-surface services for space agencies, aerospace contractors, researchers, corporate marketers and the media. More information is available at

Astrobotic media contact:
David Gump - 412-682-3282

The Moon's lowest of the low

Newly-released (Nov. 6) Kaguya Terrain Camera image of an as yet unnamed crater (70.7 S, 186.6 E) wherein rests the Moon's lowest elevation (-9060 meters, below global mean). Apparently warped after formation, perhaps by the intrusion of an inundating flood of mare material from below, this otherwise unremarkable crater stands out inside 143 km-wide Antoniadi - itself within the vast South Pole-Aitken Basin. From this low profile, similar to HDTV video captured shortly before the guided impact of Japan's first lunar orbiter, data making up this image may have been collected very late in the historic mission.

Cluster of farside secondary craters

Cluster of secondary craters help geologists determine the relative ages of features, even when they are separated by great distances. Image width = 630 meters. From an uncalibrated Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LROC) Narrow Angle Camera frame showing the floor of a small 14 kilometer diameter crater on the lunar farside,~68 km east of Jackson. Note the small, secondary craters that cover the floor of this crater [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Samuel Lawrence
LROC News System

When people envision a "moonscape" it probably looks something like this -- craters, craters everywhere.

There are two types of impact craters on the Moon: primary and secondary. Primary craters form as the result of an asteroid or comet (or spacecraft) impacting the Moon. Secondary impact craters formed from the impact of ejecta expelled during primary crater formation. Secondary impact craters dominate this scene, possibly from the impact event that created nearby Jackson crater (70 km diameter), a fresh crater 68 km to the west.

Geologists use small secondary craters to help unravel the stratigraphy of the lunar surface. These secondary craters reside on the floor of a 14 km diameter crater. What is the age of this host crater? Assuming our postulation about these secondary craters originating from the Jackson event is correct, then it is a fair bet that the Jackson impact postdates the formation of this crater. If you look at the bottom of this NAC frame in the LROC Image Gallery, you can see that this crater also has a very subdued rim, in contrast to Jackson's well-defined rim, providing more evidence that this crater predates the Jackson impact. What do you think?

But how can we figure this out for sure? Nothing replaces the utility of samples and in-situ exploration. For example, when human explorers collect samples both from the regolith near this cluster of secondary craters and Jackson crater, then the impact melts can be radiometrically age-dated in a laboratory to provide absolute formation ages. If the ages determined for the regolith samples obtained from this crater cluster match the age dates determined for the Jackson impact, then they probably originated from the same impact event.

Jackson, Lunar Far Side [Virtual Moon Atlas v.4]

Monday, November 23, 2009

Advanced avionics and processor systems for space and lunar exploration

Andrew S. Keys and James H. Adams, (NASA MSFC)

In response to the Constellation Program's need for environmentally hardened electronics and avionics, the AAPS technology development project is actively working to provide advancements in the areas of modeling of the radiation environment and its effect on advanced, modem electronics, FPGAs designed such that they are hardened against the radiation environment, High Performance Processors that will provide high efficiency, radiation hardened performance, Reconfigurable Computin g capabilities that allow a single processor board to fulfill multiple finctions, and SiGe-based electronics that allow operation in the low-temperature and radiation environments of the lunar surface. This overview paper provides a summary of each of these technology development tasks with an emphasis on the significant progress of the past fiscal year and identification of the additional development milestones planned for the coming fiscal year.

Download the full Presentation (pdf) HERE.
AIAA SPACE 2009 Conference and Exposition Pasadena, CA 14-17 Sept. 2009

An impatient space community

Jeff Foust
Space Politics

A few other notes from Alan Ladwig’s talk Friday at the University of Nebraska space law conference in Washington:

Ladwig acknowledged the uncertainty that many have felt over the last year about the future policy direction of the new administration. “The space community has been a little on edge during the past 11 months, waiting to see what the Obama Administration has in store for us,” he said, calling the agency currently a “work in progress.” “The space community is not a patient lot, and we’re not putting up well with the pace, the priority, and the inconvenience of having to wait for the new administration to determine our direction and level of resources committed to the civil space program.”

Some changes might be visible soon, though. Ladwig noted that new administrator Charles Bolden is now free to make organizational changes and realign personnel in the agency now that he’s passed the 120-day mark in his tenure there. “We expect an announcement on that to be coming before Thanksgiving.”

Read the post HERE.

Konstantin Feoktistov

Well-known spaceship designer and one of the Soviet Union's first cosmonauts, Konstantin Feoktistov, has died at 83 in Moscow, the Russian space agency Roscosmos said Sunday.

"We report with regret that Konstantin Feoktistov, a famous Soviet cosmonaut, died in Moscow on Saturday. Information on the funeral service, place and time of the burial will be available later," a Roscosmos spokesman said.

Feoktistov was one of those who designed Soyuz and Progress spaceships, and the Salyut and Mir space stations until 1990. From 1990 he worked as a professor at a Moscow technical university.

Feoktistov, who was the only non-Communist cosmonaut in the Soviet Union, made a spaceflight on board the Voskhod spaceship in 1964. He was awarded the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union for that first group spaceflight in history.

A crater on the Moon is named after Feoktistov.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Anders: We can return to the Moon

Maj. General William A. Anders (USAF, Ret.) was keynote speaker at a private luncheon hosted at the Museum of Flight in Tukwila in Washington, by the Seattle Symphony on the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 12 – the second mission to land men on the moon.

When the United States eventually returns to space after the shuttle program is retired next year, “we can go back to the moon and on to other planets,” the Apollo 8 veteran said.

Read the post HERE.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Central Peak of Rutherfurd

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) view of boulders on the floor of Rutherfurd (349.9°E, 60.9°S), about to disappear into the shadows of dusk. (Width = ~204 meters; Orbit 1242, Oct. 4, 2009, 1426 UT) [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Samuel Lawrence
LROC News System

Many boulders lie at the bottom of steep slopes on the floor of Rutherfurd crater (45 km diameter).

Most were probably dislodged by quakes caused by nearby impacts and they simply rolled to the floor. Several LROC images have shown the importance of boulders that roll from high places, as they offer explorers the chance to sample material from far above without climbing mountains. However, many LROC images have shown that boulders are commonly found perched on topographic highs, both on small mounds and large mountains. They certainly did not roll to these high points -- how did they get there? What can they tell us about the geology of the crater?

The floor of Rutherfurd crater has many mounds with boulders of all sizes. Were these boulders thrown here from afar or did they form in place? [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University]

The rubbly boulders shown above may be the remnants of impact melt that temporarily washed over a high mound on the crater floor. As the melt hardened it formed a thin, brittle shell that was later broken by quakes or small impacts. Look closely at the picture and see if there is any evidence to support this hypothesis.

Boulders can also be found by themselves with no apparent source, and they come in all sizes. No matter their source or size, they will prove useful for future astronauts as they explore the Moon -- from rocks come truth.

A very large boulder - 100 meters by 80 meters. Where did it come from, and how old is it? [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University]

Rutherfurd crater has an amazing array of geologic features, browse the whole NAC image and see if you can unravel the history of the boulders and what they tell you about the local geology.

Commercial spaceports eyed for eastern N.C.

Fair disclosure: Lunar Pioneer Research Group has been studying the concept of locating a commercial spaceport in eastern North Carolina for two years. - JCR

Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot

A new aviation business park and long, isolated runways in eastern North Carolina could be keys to attracting commercial space-travel companies here, according to experts who attended a forum Thursday at Elizabeth City State University.

Leaders in the industry spoke during the daylong NewSpace Commerce Forum, including Jeff Greason, CEO of XCor Aerospace in California; Robert Richards, CEO of Odyssey Moon Lt d.; and Jeff Krukin, a consultant in the field who helped organize the forum.

It was the first forum of its kind in North Carolina, Krukin said Friday.

"The opportunities now are better than they have ever been in North Carolina," he said in an interview.

Flying tourists into suborbital space, from 30 to 65 miles up, is expected to be the leading service in the new commercial space industry but companies also hope to launch satellites for the military and private companies, Krukin said. XCor Aerospace and Odyssey Moon are among the companies building and testing reusable spacecraft.

"We're watching an industry evolve," Krukin said.

A handful of people have paid millions to travel to the International Space Station. A suborbital flight would run about $200,000.

Greason told forum organizers that his company may look for a site in the eastern United States, Krukin said.

Manufacturing parts for reusable spacecraft is a niche in the field, said Wayne Harris, director of the Albemarle Economic Development Commission in Elizabeth City. The new aviation park would be a good location for a parts manufacturer, he said.

Scattered through the region are isolated, longer airfields that could be improved for commercial space-travel facilities.

ECSU added aerospace courses this fall to its aviation program, the only four-year degree in the field available in the state.

The Global TransPark business complex outside Kinston has a runway of 11,500 feet and already serves as a backup landing site for the space shuttle, said ECSU economic development consultant Rocky Lane, who helped organize Thursday's forum.

Nine years ago, Lockheed Martin was a partner in the VentureStar project, which sought to launch a craft from a vertical position carrying satellites into orbit for NASA and private industries. An old airfield in Hyde County was among the sites considered, but the project never materialized.

- Originally published in The Virginia Pilot, Nov. 15, 2009
Jeff Hampton, (252) 338-0159,

All these worlds are yours, except the Moon and Mars (attempt no landing there)

Michael Huang
The Space Review

"If the Flexible Path had been around during Kennedy’s time, all the Apollo landing missions would have been canceled."

The Augustine committee has said repeatedly that it is presenting options, not recommendations. But it was clear from its final press conference that it preferred its own creation, the “sensible” Flexible Path, over the Program of Record, Moon First,i and Mars First options. It is difficult to see how this can be anything other than an unofficial recommendation.

Read the article at The Space Review, HERE.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Maine Engineer wins NASA Space Challenge

1st place winner of the 2009 NASA Astronaut Glove Challenge, Peter Homer, and daughter; Alan Hayes of Volantz, Inc.; Andrew Petro of NASA; 2nd place winner Ted Southern, and team member Amy Miller. Credit: NASA

Clara Moskowitz

An aerospace engineer from Maine, the reigning champion of NASA's Astronaut Glove Challenge, held onto his title Thursday to win first prize in a competition to build a better space glove than those worn by astronauts today.

The winner, Peter Homer of Southwest Harbor, Maine, took home $250,000, top prize at the competition held at the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, Fla., close to NASA's Kennedy Space Center. It was the second win for Homer, who took home first place, and $200,000, in the first-ever Astronaut Glove Challenge in 2007.

Second prize this year went to artist Ted Southern, another former competitor from Brooklyn, New York. Southern was awarded $100,000.

"It was a close decision. Both met all requirements," said Andy Petro, manager of NASA's Centennial Challenges program, which oversees the competition.

The full story HERE.

U.S. losing space lead, experts warn Congress

Robert S. Boyd

America's once clear dominance in space is eroding as other nations, including China, Iran and North Korea, step up their activities, a panel of experts told the House subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Thursday.

"Others are catching up fast," said Marty Hauser, vice president for Washington operations at the Space Foundation, an advocacy organization headquarters in Colorado Springs. "Of particular note over the past decade is the emergence of China's human spaceflight capabilities."

Russia now leads the world in space launches. China recently became the third nation, after the United States and Russia, to send its own astronauts out for a spacewalk.

"China is laying the groundwork for a long-term space program with or without us," said Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University in Washington. "We should worry if we're not out there with them."

China's rocket launch facilities are "state of the art," Hauser said.

In a competition once limited to the U.S. and the Soviet Union, 60 nations now have their own space agencies, panelists said. Thirteen nations have active space programs, and eight are capable of launching their own satellites into orbit.

More HERE.

Cosmonaut says Russia falling behind in space

Vladimir Isachenkov

Russia lacks a viable program for developing a new spacecraft and will likely fall behind in the space race, a veteran Russian cosmonaut said in an interview published Friday.

Efforts to build a successor to the 40-year old Soyuz spacecraft have dragged on with no end in sight, Mikhail Tyurin told the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

Tyurin, a veteran of two missions to the International Space Station in 2001 and 2007, blamed the slow progress on a lack of clear goals and poor coordination.

"They have issued an order for a new spacecraft without having any concept," Tyurin said.

He said officials' talk of using the ship to fly to the International Space Station, and then the moon and Mars, are unfeasible. "One vehicle can't be both a steamroller and a Formula One racer," he said.

Russia's Federal Space Agency had no immediate comment.

Full story HERE.

The wet side of the Moon

William S. Marshall
Op-Ed Contributor
New York Times

PICTURE a habitat atop a hill in warm sunlight on the edge of a crater near the south pole of the Moon. There are metal ores in the rocks nearby and ice in the shadows of the crater below. Solar arrays are set up on the regolith that covers the Moon’s surface. Humans live in sealed, cave-like lava tubes, protected from solar flares and sustained by large surface greenhouses. Imagine the Moon as the first self-sustainable human settlement away from Earth and a high-speed transportation hub for the solar system.

We can finally begin to think seriously about establishing such a self-sufficient home on the Moon because last week, NASA announced that it had discovered large quantities of water there.

While we have known for decades that the Moon had all the raw chemicals necessary for sustaining life, we believed they were trapped in rocks and thus difficult to extract. The discovery of plentiful lunar water is of tremendous importance to humanity and our long-term survival.

Read the Op-Ed column, HERE.

LEAG 2009 DeBrief - Out of the Cradle

"Wow! That was a mind-bending conference. Clearly LRO is coming into full flower, its instruments providing solid and fascinating results."

With that hopeful statement, Ken Murphy of Out of the Cradle begins an excellent summary of the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) in Houston.

Ken himself admits he was "on vacation." While his report is interesting, but not a headline-making report mostly about using his visit to Houston to fatten OTC's Lunar Library, including a visit to the area's Half-Price-Books.

I'm a HUGE fan of the Half-Price-Books stores, and spent an inordinate amount of time at the store the used to be on Camp Bowie in southwest Fort Worth, many years ago. But I sure would not have missed Anthony Coleprete's higher-order discussion of the LCROSS results.

As further debriefs come in, we will happy to post these.

Ken's trip to Houston HERE.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Triumph (and disappointment) of Apollo 12

The genuine triumph, November 19, 1969
. The Apollo 12 lunar module Intrepid on target, Alan Bean takes the iconic photograph of Pete Conrad standing next to Surveyor 3 as he displays those parts they came to retrieve: the unmanned lander's television camera and shovel arm. Surveyor 3 had waited 944 days, alternately broiled and flash-frozen into it's thirty-fifth lunar sunrise. This precision landing, aided by remarkable navigation and supplementary Doppler radar, was an unparalleled achievement. Meanwhile, back on Earth, all anyone could see of the action (below) was burned on the ruined camera's retina [Alan Bean NASA/Apollo].

An entertainment disappointment. The first live color television broadcast from the Moon didn't last very long, a little over twenty minutes, covering Conrad & Bean's light-hearted descent down the ladder through their first steps and brief arrival ceremony. Almost from the moment the live color television camera was retrieved from its stowed vantage, Al Bean inadvertently exposed the it to the brilliant sunrise, and it was toast. People on the ground stared at the image (above) for at least forty-five disbelieving minutes before the big networks and NASA accepted the fact that the scene wasn't going to change.

Joel Raupe
Lunar Pioneer

Not enough is being written about the 40th anniversary of Apollo 12, and that surprises me a little. I know it shouldn't. After all, there are at least a hundred million Americans alive today for whom last July's Fortieth Anniversary of Apollo 11 must have seemed similar to what I experienced during that same anniversary in 1967 of Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic.

It's a good thing we have those tapes reproducing the improperly synched and smeared black and while television images of Neil Armstrong's first steps. It's sweeter still that Mark Robinson and his LROC team, who so skillfully operate the Narrow Angle Camera on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) released detailed photographic surveys of the Apollo landing sites, showing those first steps still so well-preserved on lunar surface.

Otherwise someone might come up with some "conspiracy theory," insisting the whole thing was taped on a sound stage, perhaps at Area 51 or something.

If that had been the case I would have to compare such theories with the opinions expressed by my Grandfather, a half-Plains Indian, cowboy and shell-shocked veteran of World War I, who would never quite grasp the concept of Earth orbit, let alone traveling to the Moon.

I'm going to have to ask you to imagine experiencing this thing through the eyes of a ten-year-old, a certifiable space fanatic who was forced to sit in the backseat to impatiently listen to my Grandfather and his brothers as they rationalized this news of Americans on the Moon, somehow both impossible and a national triumph.

My Grandfather theorized from behind the wheel of his dusty Ford, windows rolled down as he tooled around the Central Texas countryside that, while it was clearly impossible for humans to actually be walking on the Moon, it was "still a good thing, what they're doing."

"What they done," he concluded, "was land over there in Japan, in them bum craters, which was a good thing, since no one had been there since they dropped them bums."

My father, a decade younger than I am today, had to insist I keep my silence, and I did, reluctantly, occasionally dodging my grandfather's chewing tobacco, little wet payloads launched suborbitally out the driver's side window.

He meant, of course, that "the government, up in Washington" had, instead, landed military personnel in spacesuits at the sites of the first nuclear "bum" explosions: Alamogordo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Bikini Atoll.

"Son," he would say, rolling his eyes each time that this interesting, if chatty, ten-year-old grandson of his tried hard to explain basic Newtonian Mechanics, a genial grin on his face, chiding me through the rear-view mirror, "what keeps it up there?"

And I've patiently ignored, without any contempt prior to investigation, any and all of the best conspiracy theories about the Apollo Moon landings ever since.

Allow me also to forego sharing too much detail of Apollo 12 that you can find on your own, today, using any respectable search engine. In the Apollo Era, fanatic followers of NASA had to wait usually about six months to see a selection of the best photographs from each of those missions, as presented in National Geographic. Not until the middle of the 1990's was I aware that higher resolutions of the still photography from those missions was remotely possible.

Apollo 12 was a historic demonstration of what still remains close to the cutting edge in orbital mechanics and engineering. The mission was designed originally as a stop-gap and back-up should Apollo 11 fail, and became instead the first true precision landing on the Moon.

A glance at the contemporary pictures of the landing site, the landing site of Surveyor 3, shows a puzzling plain featuring the chaotic layers of crater saturation in the vast equatorial Oceanus Procellarum, and it still has me shaking my head in admiration for the sheer talent that made this landing happen forty years ago.

It will take us years to catch up with where we dared reach. (Compare this situation with the state of aviation forty years after "Lucky" Lindy's flew the Atlantic.)

Yes, I'm still awed, wondering how mission planners knew so precisely which crater Surveyor 3 was sitting, the very crater, where it would just be beginning it's 35th lunar sunrise, 944 Earth-days after its robotic landing (and then a re-landing) in April 1967.

Conrad and Bean, frankly, were ecstatic when the lunar module Intrepid tipped forward through Terminal Descent and they instantly spied the "Snowman" cluster of craters where Surveyor 3 waited patiently.

Cheerful Commander Charles "Pete" Conrad, Jr., USN (1930 - 1999) became the third person to walk on the Moon, November 19, 1969, just four months after Armstrong & Aldrin the previous July.

Apollo 11 was a hard act to follow, but if anyone was best suited to provide some needed entertainment value, where Armstrong had provided needed steely precision, it was Pete Conrad.

Short, energetic, it's difficult to find any picture of the man without his trademark, gap-tooth smile. He and Al Bean were a friendly team, a notable contrast with the cautious crew Apollo 11.

Again, put yourself in my ten-year-old shoes, that November.

I had followed (and still follow) each and every mission, manned or unmanned. And on that "School Night," I strained to listen to the live communications, through the now-classic ridiculous jabbering of television network commentators and readers, even waiting through commercials.

It was my junk, since Telstar, at least.

Still, I didn't miss much that night, though the more easily distracted were already drifting away from the much larger Cloud of Witness the previous July.

So I was sat glued to the television, with my collection of glued-together models, of a Saturn V, an Apollo CSM-LM combo, a separate Lunar Module and my Rand McNally Moon map. And I listened to the faceless voices, so far away, to Conrad & Bean excitedly relaying their Comm through another daring descent.

At some point, I looked around the living room and realized I was the only one awake in the house. But my Mother (who quietly shared my enthusiasm for space travel, who had turned me on to Star Trek) fought sleep and finally did slip into the room, perhaps as worried for me missing sleep than for Pete Conrad and Al Bean.

Their landing passed, and I fell asleep, knowing it would be many hours before they would disembark.

I was waiting for the television, and, for the first time, a color camera.

My Mother nudged me back awake, admonishing me to back away from the new color television around daybreak. As I rubbed my eyes, Conrad was suddenly visible in our living room coming down the ladder, upside down at first, soon rectified by Houston.

It looked a lot like Apollo 11, only this time, the scene was definitely "in color."

Color television was still "new," or "newly cheaper," finally reaching a fifty percent household saturation, essentially the same technology first publically demonstrated at the 1939 New York Worlds Fair.

The rest of the household began to gather, and my stunned father, already dressed and primed for work, changed his mind and decided to go in late, instead. He wasn't as above "all that" as he thought.

Today, you can watch it all on the Internet, if you carefully dodge the conspiracy uploads, and witness every moment of what we saw Live From The Moon during the following twenty minutes or so. The highlights of that brief, very promising but tragically brief broadcast is discussed on Wikipedia:

"When Conrad, who was somewhat shorter than Neil Armstrong, stepped onto the lunar surface, his first words were "Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me."[4] This was not an off-the-cuff remark: Conrad had made a $500 bet with reporter Oriana Fallaci he would say these words, after she had queried whether NASA had instructed Neil Armstrong what to say as he stepped onto the Moon. Conrad later said he was never able to collect the money.[5][6]

"To improve the quality of television pictures from the Moon, a color camera was carried on Apollo 12 (unlike the monochrome camera that was used on Apollo 11). Unfortunately, when Bean carried the camera to the place near the lunar module where it was to be set up, he inadvertently pointed it directly into the Sun, destroying the vidicon tube. Television coverage of this mission was thus terminated almost immediately."

That single broadcast would be the first and only color television coverage of a Moon landing until Apollo 14, in 1971. The hiatus, of course, was due to the Apollo 13 abort the following April.

Even then, much of the Apollo 14 excursions would happen out from the view of an improved but still imperfect live television camera. When time finally arrived for what became the final three science, or "J" missions, supplied with redundant, remote controlled cameras, mounted on lunar electric rovers, a lot of the magic was gone for the lowest common denominators in the market of mass appeal, among whom were many who would tolerate no more interruptions of their Soaps. Viet Nam was winding down, and the introspective, odd-ball Seventies were well underway.

I'm not insisting that a moment's inattention, the unintentional destruction of Apollo 12's color TV camera so early during an exceptional mission, caused the larger "Gap," the gap in lunar exploration, from Apollo 17 to Lunar Prospector, but it is certain full appreciation of the role entertainment plays in the funding of space exploration is still not fully appreciated.